At some point in the last year, I ceased menstruation and officially entered menopause. On what day, at what time, and in what manner, I couldn’t say. Just a seminal phase of my woman-life ushered in with little fanfare. We don’t acknowledge this rite of passage like we do the others. I wonder why that is? My child-bearing years are now behind me and I’m floating in a sea of hormonal and life-purpose confusion. I’m not asking for a party, but can’t we at least talk about it? Shouldn’t someone at least say something. But what would be appropriate under the circumstances? “Good luck in this last phase of your life.” “Don’t let those hot flashes get you down.” “Best of luck finishing your sentences.”
I am aging. In ways that are genetically predictable, I am transforming. My knees sound like castanets when I walk up stairs. The ankle I sprained in July aches when the weather drops below 65. And my fingers are beginning to curve upward and inward in a way that would be sexy if it were my breasts. I can’t help but be reminded of my grandmother’s arthritic fingers and the rings she could never get off. I loved her for decorating those knotty hands with bangles and rings that drew attention to the leafy skin and the complicated root system of blue veins beneath. Maybe that’s what it’s all about. Decoration, despite. And yet, intuitively, I am leaning less towards embellishment and more towards revelation and rebellion. I’ve decided to celebrate my greys. No hair dyes, or hennas, or hats for me. In fact, I’m wearing my hair down more these days. Wild and coarse and threaded with silver.
Mysterious things are happening. I’m no longer afraid of bees, or spiders, or snakes. In fact I speak to them tenderly, as I do trees and bodies of water. I’m now leery of falling and terrified of forgetting. Vocabulary words, the names of beloved actors, musicians, movie titles–even childhood friends– float around out of reach, or just plain leave, and I often have to put on my coat and boots and go looking for them in the middle of the cold night. I always find them, but they seem to wander off more frequently these days and I resent them like hell when they come sauntering back in the door like nothing ever happened. Like finding a child whose been hiding for too long, I’m both relieved and super pissed off. But I smack my forehead with the heal of my hand and say “of course” just to let them know it’s no big deal. They came back. That’s all that matters.
I also seem to be regressing (or progressing) emotionally. As a child, I held negative emotions inside. I could feel them vibrating right behind my chest plate in a small coffer I was told never to open. Now, there is the leaking of self in all it’s forms. Anger, sadness, grief. And at the bottom, a soft lining of Hope and Forgiveness. Pandora’s box has sprung wide open. I drive along country lanes with the windows rolled up and scream until I have no voice. Sometimes, I fight the urge to hurl myself down a couple of stairs just to get my family’s attention. But I must be reasonable. So I speak my mind. I’m sick of doing the dishes. What about dinner? Did anyone notice I made dinner, you know, that lovingly prepared stuff on your plate?
The other night after losing at Scrabble during family game night, I actually muttered “it’s a stupid game anyway” and went to pout alone in my room. I cried my eyes out for no particular reason and for this whole tender world and ended up in a fetal ball with my forehead on the mattress—a petulant child’s pose. When it was all over, I felt renewed and peaceful. I don’t pretend to know what it all means. Sometimes I don’t recognize myself. On a recent morning, as I searched desperately for my new hair clip, I spotted it in my daughter’s silky hair.
“Give it here! It’s mine!”, I shouted.
This is particularly disturbing behavior for someone who practices mindfulness and Buddhist principles. Even more so for a mother who prides herself on being a peaceful parent. And well, an adult, by many years. When I had my children at 39 and 40, I didn’t think to do the forward math. Which finds my children at 12 and 13 entering puberty as I cross the threshold of menopause. Generally speaking, this is not a good combination. But they seem to be handling it better than me, easing into it, being the better example. I ask for forgiveness and offer it to myself.
I am a champion of healthy foods. And yet I found myself on a recent trip to the grocery store staring at the vast selection of Pop Tarts in the breakfast aisle . “Ooh, Pop Tarts” I enthused as I held a box of brown sugar cinnamon toaster pastries in my hand. “Mom, put the box down,” my son spoke gently and slowly to me. “You can’t buy those. They’re not even food.” He is a wise thirteen year old. I put them back. We made apple pie instead. I am still learning to compromise.
Menopause also finds me suspended in the middle place of womanhood. I am mother. I am daughter. I am mother to a teenage daughter, daughter to an ageing mother. Her body, so fragile now, betrays her with a constant series of small losses and a denial that won’t allow her to get rid of the tripping heels and the clothes that will never be worn again. And I care for her, when I can, with patience and compassion, as she cared for me. She must show herself, vulnerable and exposed, and allow others to assist, additional arms and legs to carry and lift and wash her. Tuck her into bed. And although I am at times terrified by what her ageing looks like, I recognize my inclusion in the cycle as a priviledge.
My own daughter will begin menstruation soon, as mine has ceased. So I sit her down and tell her that one day soon she will begin to bleed, only a few teaspoons really, and that it means her body is working as it should. I try to make it sound like no big deal, and a miraculous splendor at the same time. I tell her we can celebrate somehow. And I tell her, I will be there, if she wants me. If she needs me.
Some day soon, I’m going to plan a small ceremony to honor my own transformation. Something private, just a still moment under a tree. Nothing to figure out, just a time to be. Maybe in the Spring, when the bees are around. I have so much to tell them.